Unanswered Prayer

People pray for many different things: a happy marriage, for healing, for success, and so on. Yet it turns out those very people can have bad marriages, die from diseases, and fail at their endeavors. Christians try to reason why this is so. Some believe that somehow, the prayer was answered. They give the non-answer that all prayers are answered by “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” Could there be a better answer?

If you have ever prayed for something important, only to find what you prayed about didn’t come to pass, you understand the despair that comes from an unanswered prayer.

People pray for many different things: a happy marriage, for healing, for success, and so on. Yet it turns out those very people can have bad marriages, die from diseases, and fail at their endeavors.

Christians try to reason why this is so. Some believe that somehow, the prayer was answered. They say the possible answers are “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.” While technically one of these three words can qualify as an “answer” to most requests, it does not truly address the question “Why didn’t God give me what I asked for.”

Others say that it wasn’t answered because it “wasn’t for the best,” or it “wasn’t his will.” These answers are problematic too. We do understand God’s will enough to say this is true. Furthermore, there are prayers with answers that would fit into God’s will, yet they too are unanswered.

For example, if you pray for someone to be saved, and that person never is saved, that unanswered prayer defiantly wasn’t for the best (as far as that individual was concerned). It also wasn’t God’s will that the individual not be saved:

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is …. not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

The real reasons God doesn’t answer prayers according to their requests is not found in these simple “Yes, No, Wait, God’s will” clichés. Scripture doesn’t use these answers, yet we still use these to offer comfort. However, these clichés can silence the mouth of a person who needs understanding. They even drive others to doubt God is even there.

The real reasons are more practical. Freewill is a key element that is involved in whether or not God will actually answer a prayer. If a prayer involves manipulating someone’s freewill, that prayer will not be answered. How would you feel if someone prayed God make you do something you didn’t want to do, and God forced you to do it anyway?

Some prayers are not up to God to answers. For example, if someone prays for a happy marriage, God isn’t going to brainwash his or her spouse to constantly be pleasing. The responsibility to make a happy home must be fulfilled by the people who live in it.

A marriage is a complex relationship between a man and a woman, two different people with conflicting interests at times. Instead of asking God to magically make the two happy, they should ask God for the wisdom to make each other happy.

If a marriage falls apart, there is little God can do to guarantee the marriage can be restored because it is up to the couple to keep it together, not God. He will not brainwash someone into staying married to another when they would rather leave.

God respects freewill. Prayers that trample on freewill are not likely to be answered. However, God is a great gardner. He can plant ideas and nourish them, but ultimately, it the person who allows God’s seed to take root. You could pray that God impress a thought on someone’s heart and he might do it. But in the end, it is the person’s decision to allow God to lead.

Praying for success is another area that freewill will be a factor. If someone prays for his or her church to be a success, God could help make the church fruitful, but he will not make someone eat of its fruit. If only a few people join a church, it isn’t that God didn’t want to answer the prayer. It is more likely that God wanted to use your church, but the people who attend used their freewill and made the church unfruitful.

We live in a very complex world. Every person has their own opinions, likes, desires, strengths, and freewill. No two people are the same, and there is constantly interaction between people. How a person acts and responds represents his or her own will at play.

Success can depend on the right people being available, the right ideas coming from the right minds, and many other factors all involving freewill and a willingness to hear God’s advice.

I hope you are beginning to see some of the issues that affect the answers to prayers. It simply doesn’t always come down to God’s will. It also isn’t always “Yes No or Wait.” Sometimes it is “Yes, but you have to work at it too.” Sometimes it is “No, but it might happen anyway.”

God isn’t micromanaging his creation. If he wanted to do that, there would be no freewill. So when you pray, do not think God is pulling everyone’s strings to make whatever he wants to happen come about.

But what about prayers involving healing? This is a touchy issue. Some people believe God healed them of a disease. Others pray for years and never are healed. Sometimes the people who need healing are innocent children. Both good and bad people get sick, pray, and people from both groups experience recovery at the same rate.

What is going on? Is God healing some but not others? Why not heal a child? Why do rich people live healthier lives than a good poor person in spite of prayer? In scripture, healing of sickness was instant. Why does it always take time, doctors, and drugs to heal today?

Before I continue, I must say that for the Christian, the answer to this prayer has already been answered in essence. In heaven, a person receives a perfect, healthy body. So ultimately, the answer is yes, God will heal a Christian.

While that is true, when we ask God to heal someone, we almost always mean now. Not in heaven, now. Many people never see an earthly miraculous healing.

One reason offered is that God has decided to use miracles less often today. Some even say no miraculous healing happens today. The reason God has slowed down miracle occurrence has to do with saving souls. It is said that miracles actually detour people from being saved.

Your instinct might cause you to believe a healing would be a sign to an unbeliever. It isn’t. Think about it… most unbelievers try to write off miracles with skepticism. A miracle is not a guaranteed ticket to convert someone. If you recall from scripture, the great healer himself, Jesus Christ, was crucified. He was crucified by the very people he healed. Jesus preformed miracles in their very sight, yet they didn’t believe.

A crowd of people doubt a voice from heaven was real:

John 12:28b

….Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” 29 Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”

One example of people rebuking Jesus for healing on a Saturday.

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”

A blind man is excommunicated after being healed

John 9:13-34

Believe it or not, Christianity is stronger today with fewer signs and wonders than it was when it first began, when signs and wonders were common.

If God doesn’t heal someone, even a child, the reason could be because not healing leads to more souls for the kingdom. Even though you care for the person who needs healed, God cares for the souls of everyone alive. Our bodies wear out, and die, but our souls live on. If miracles turned people off in Jesus day, the same would likely happen today.

It may be difficult to watch someone suffer, but the good news is their suffering is temporary if they are a Christian. If God healed them, and it caused 10 people to fall away, should God heal one person’s mortal body and forsake the 10 people’s immortal souls?

Things are differrent from when Jesus told his apostles to heal everyone.

Whatever God doesn’t do, the answer always comes back to love for you, and the world of other people around you. If you want to pray for someone who is sick, pray that God be with that person’s doctors. Pray for that person’s attitude, and for peace to find their worried mind. God can answer these prayers.

It is God’s will to save as many who will come. He will always answer with a, “Yes,” to anyone who wishes to be saved. He is faithful to give wisdom for those who pray for it. Prayer is for more than requests, it is also to talk to God about anything. You can ask for forgiveness, peace, and alertness. God can help you become a better person when you are willing.